The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils will face off tonight in Game 5 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. It's the third time in as many series the Rangers have walked into Madison Square Garden tied 2-2 with the opposition. They're 1-1 in Game 5's this year.
Tonight's Game 5 feels different, however. Mainly because whoever wins the game will wrestle control of the series and thus be a single win away from clinching a date with the Los Angeles Kings for the Stanley Cup.
Here's the thing, the Rangers have played their best hockey when their backs are against the wall and they're fighting for their lives. You better believe tonight has that type of feel, that mentality. The Rangers are thisclose to doing something really special, to getting someplace they haven't been since 1994. They're aware of what tonight means.
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Whether you like it or not, these are the moments that Stanley Cup champions need to go through. I can't tell you how many times I've written you don't win the cup, you earn it. The Rangers need to earn it tonight.
This means Chris Kreider can't be the only player creating scoring chances, Henrik Lundqvist can't be relied on to continuously bail out the Rangers when they're stuck in their own end, Marian Gaborik needs to break his scoring funk, Carl Hagelin can use a goal, hell, so can just about every other New York Ranger.
What I'm trying to say is, it doesn't matter how it happens, but the Rangers need to win Game 5 tonight. They're at home, they're fired up about getting embarrassed in Game 4 and they know how important being able to end this series in six would be.
There will be no lack of fire tonight. There can't be. John Tortorella held a light skate and was pleased with the results afterwards. He's been optimistic all year, and for good reason, this team has been special from day one. Tonight's just another step in that journey.
Trust me, they want it. Now they just have to take it.